Mounting concerns over ocean acidification—a consequence of CO2 emissions—has accelerated research funding aimed at understanding the process potentially endangering marine life in ocean waters all across the earth.
In early October, the National Science Foundation awarded over $24 million dollars to 22 projects through a new grant program targeted to study how ocean acidification affects marine environments. While the NSF has funded ocean acidification in the past, it is the first time the agency has created a special program aimed at the field of study.
As CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere increase, much of the gas is absorbed by the oceans, where it dissolves in the water. As a result, the oceans are getting more acidic over time. However, the long-term effects of the process are poorly understood.
“There are serious concerns about ocean acidification, and that's why this research is being conducted," Phillip Taylor, Head of the Ocean Section in NSF's Ocean Sciences Division, told SolveClimate News. “There are many who think this is going to have an impact on important animals in the sea that are instrumental in driving the productivity of ocean waters.”
Ocean acidification threatens the growth of corals, clams and other organisms at the bottom of the food chain. These changes could trigger a domino effect throughout the oceanic ecosystem.
The funded projects investigate a variety of topics, such as modeling the rate of future acidification, studying how organisms behave in lowered pH and looking at earth history to understand how current trends may progress.
What the Science Says So Far
One recipient of the new grants was Bärbel Hönisch, a paleoceanographer and assistant professor at Columbia University. Hönisch is using boron isotopes to reconstruct how the oceans' pH has changed with time; she hopes that past trends will shed light on the changes to come.